Gerald did not know when he’d turned off the lights. He’d been sitting in the dark for a long time. The screen the only source of illumination, not even a lantern worth of light to see. His stomach curled up and hard, twisting. He closed his eyes for a moment, and breathed out, trying to force images out of his head. Faces and names and moments.
The screen showed he’d pulled up a few different chat bubbles. He’d not typed into any of them. They all had a few things in common, a few connecting features between the people presented. Girls. Women. Above his age. Never spoken to any of them. Never video chatted. Cost too much.
Gerald sighed, his stomach still tight. He looked around, expecting something, anything, but no. He hovered his hands out, before closing the fingers one by one in a wave. Unwilling, unsure, of what might have happened. He didn’t like the idea of what he wanted.
None of his friends were online. This was a numbers game result, more than anything. Out of two, neither were around. If they even counted. Never met them. Never spoken to them. Just played the same games.
And then the door shuddered with someone knocking. Pounding, in fact, and Gerald turned with wide eyes. His heart pounded much like the door at the thought of things, at what might be out that door.
The images were in his head again. He did not know what to do with all of them. Any of them. They made him guilty. The anxiety was enough to pin him to his chair. Cowering. Shaking.
Crack went the wood for a second, and he flinched.
“Who…who is it?” he said, hoping that they could not hear his voice, and he could say he at least tried.
The response was not one voice but a cacophony. The door swelled with force and fury from those sounds, bloating outward. Gerald sprang up, almost without his own command of his feet, and took one mechanical, instinctual step to the door.
The door inhaled again, and in the back of his head were all those images. Those awkward glances. Conversations not going the way he meant them to, the communication he intended. All the social skills he lacked.
Those memories coalesced into a red swell, sitting in the back of his head. Tinged with a real, physical headache and shortness of breath. He wanted to drop to his knees and ignore the door.
But one voice, the words though not understood, spoke calm, and he felt like he could trust that voice. He wrapped his hand around the handle, the metal cold, and the darkness so vast right behind him, even if he knew the room was so small, containing, constricting.
Everything said no. But, well, Gerald was tired of that. He pulled the door open with a rush of air and backed up as faces filled the frame. His eyes adjusted to the blinding light.
“Hey dude! Want to hang out!”
“New club man, come along?”
“We need another for game night, you in?”
“Come see my show.”
“We should get a drink sometime.”
Gerald felt like he was having a heart attack, but he didn’t step back into the dark like he wanted. Like he always did.
“Wha…where did you all come from?”
The person in the center, an older woman with laugh lines, smiled. His mother. “I told you, Gerald, they were always here. You just need to let them in. You’re not such a bad person. I think you can do more than you think.”
Gerald, well, Gerald was not so sure he believed her. But he still opened the door wide, and took a step out into the light, to the smiling faces. The smell of food, cooked and flavorful. The waft of some far off oceanic breeze.
And, in as small a movement as he could, he turned and stared at the screen he left behind. Only there was no screen. There was a dark room with nothing but a single whip on the ground, the ends tipped with recent gore.
He smiled, one that went up to his eyes, and closed the door on it. He was done looking at it.